A mother-daughter legacy: The stewardship of Crystal Hill

A mother-daughter legacy: The stewardship of Crystal Hill

Original version of story published in Country and Coast Magazine.

When they moved to Coolgardie, just south of Ballina, Stephanie and Julian Lymburner came in search of a treechange. 

In their 40s, they left a busy picture framing business in Sydney looking to shift down a gear. Little did they know the hard work that lay ahead. 

The couple relocated to a property bought by Steph’s mother (Diana Mercer) in the 70s – a beautiful remnant of the Big Scrub with several stunning waterfalls, many large rocks on steep scree slopes and covered in regrowth rainforest species and thick stands of weeds.  

The largest of the waterfalls on Crystal Hill.

Steph’s mother, who grew up in Papua New Guinea, negotiated to buy the “useless land” from a farmer when she fell in love with its waterfalls and panoramic views. She named her cherished block “Crystal Hill” and set about its regeneration, before her life was tragically cut short when she was struck while cycling along the Pacific Highway.

It fell to Steph to carry on her mother’s dream of looking after the land. She and Julian picked up the tools, tackling the challenge of thick lantana, camphor laurel and other weeds, often beset by ticks, leeches and jumping ants. 

As they started the mammoth task of removing 8-foot tall lantana, which they could only navigate by crawling along wallaby tracks, the couple quickly realised they needed to upskill. They took themselves off to Wollongbar TAFE and enrolled in the bush regeneration course. 

From there, the main difficulty in rehabilitating the property was its steepness. Removal of weeds was compounded by the difficulty of getting to them amongst the slippery rocks, then cutting them into short lengths and leaving the ‘trash’ to act as mulch for emerging native seedlings. The photo below of Steph scaling the waterfall to hand-remove vast tracts of crofton weed and mist-flower illustrates the enormity of the task. 

Steph climbing the waterfall to weed.

It took them 20 years to make their way through the 8.2 hectare remnant, conducting the vast majority of the work without any help. Their only real assistance came from a stonemason by the name of Marek who, in a marvel of engineering, hand-built a rock path down the gully to the base of the property and up the other side. 

Even with the back-breaking work at Crystal Hill occupying much of their time, the Lymburners also worked on regeneration projects at Lumley Park, Iluka, Brockley, Moore Park in Kyogle, Brunswick Heads and Diggers Camp. Steph also served as secretary for Big Scrub Landcare for many years. 

What the Lymburners achieved in 20 years is nothing short of astonishing. They can confidently say they’ve finished the restoration of Crystal Hill, with natives like guioa, foambark, figs, hoop pines, palms, red beans, red kamala, orchids and several species of ferns now flourishing along the slopes. Big Scrub Landcare has undertaken to continue the ongoing care of this beautiful remnant by professional bush regenerators.

In 1998 the couple entered into a Voluntary Conservation Agreement with NSW National Parks, protecting 7.3 hectares of the land in perpetuity. Swamp wallabies (Wallabia bicolor), carpet pythons (Morelia spilota), grey-headed flying foxes (Pteropus poliocephalus), southern brown bandicoots (Isoodon obesulus), short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) and more than seventy bird species have taken up residence and approximately 230 native flora species now occur in the remnant.

Steph and Julian picked up the torch of stewardship over Crystal Hill, restoring an endangered ecosystem and fulfilling a mother’s dream.